Slaving away: The dirty secrets behind Australia’s fresh food was an excellent report on 4 Corners last night, exposing the daily reality of work for Australia’s underclass:
A Four Corners investigation has uncovered gangs of black market workers run by unscrupulous labour hire contractors operating on farms and in factories around the country. …
These labour hire contractors prey upon highly vulnerable young foreigners, many with very limited English, who have come to Australia with dreams of working in a fair country.
They’re subjected to brutal working hours, degrading living conditions and the massive underpayment of wages.
The program heard some Baiada workers are on the job for 18 hours per day, seven days a week and are exhausted.
Two workers first employed by Baiada earned the $25 an hour award wage, but were then switched to a labour hire company operating within the factory which paid $18.
The program cited wages as low as $13 an hour at another plant.
Staff working for a Baiada labour hire sub-contractor said two workers were abused.
This sounds very familiar… Here’s David Whyte describing a NUW strike at Baiada Poultry in 2011:
On a number of visits to the picket line, I listened to numerous horror stories of workers who worked in brutal conditions and risked their lives for as little as $8 an hour.
Their union, the National Union of Workers, estimated that at any one time, at least 10 per cent of staff were absent due to work-related injury. …
Workers said when their colleague was killed in the [Baiada] chicken packing machine, they had to remove his remains from the machine, hose it down and start up production again within two hours. …
Those on the picket line spoke of constant bullying, assaults and sexual harassment by immediate superiors in the plant.
Back then, Miranda Devine called unions “evil” for campaigning against this kind of exploitation:
This is the ugly face of the increasingly militant union movement. … [C]ashed-up unions are flexing their muscles, knowing they have a short window of opportunity to entrench power before the Labor government is thrown out.
… [T]he union’s main complaint is that the company employs contract workers, which means more than half of the workforce does not belong to the union. …
Indeed, the use of labour hire contractors as a shield was a big part of the dispute — as it was again in 2014, when similar allegations arose around Baiada:
“The reasons companies engage temporary international workers through indirect employment is that they can walk away from their legal responsibilities for paying workers compensation insurance, superannuation, public liability and minimum rates of pay,” Mr Courtney [of the AMIEU] said.
A 23-year-old woman from Hong Kong who worked at the Baiada chicken processing plant in Beresfield for more than six months said she was paid $11.50 an hour and shared a house with 30 people.
Fortunately, this time around there is a conservative who is prepared to speak up for the exploited workers — Nationals MP Keith Pitt:
In my electorate of Hinkler, it is a widely known fact that labour contractors, who act as middle men in the horticulture sector, are exploiting workers and local growers. To a small extent, the problem has always existed. But it has escalated in recent years.
And he has a plan:
Federal Nationals MP, Keith Pitt, has been calling on his government to fund a special undercover team to end the worker exploitation.
Good idea — after all, that’s how 4 Corners got its evidence:
Reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna has obtained undercover footage and on-camera accounts of this dark world.
Fortunately, our legal system protects whistleblowers who obtain secret evidence of modern slavery… right? Not so much, no.
Sam Roberts, secretary of the NUW’s general branch (which covers Queensland, WA, SA and Tasmania) had his permit suspended for six months in August 2011, after [Fair Work Commission] Senior Deputy President Matthew O’Callaghan found he was “ultimately responsible” for the decision to secretly film Baiada’s workplace, publish the video on the union’s website and provide it to the ABC for broadcast.
Senior Deputy President O’Callaghan made an earlier decision in which he found Roberts and two of his officials had misused their entry rights (see Related Article) at the company’s Wingfield site in South Australia.
So surely Keith Pitt would support strengthening unions’ ability to do this important inspection work? Again, not so much.
Keith Pitt voted very strongly against increasing trade unions’ powers in the workplace
We all know these greedy unions will drive honest businesses into administration. Miranda Devine again:
Ken Phillips, executive director of Independent Contractors Australia, doesn’t think Baiada will survive this. … He says unions carefully focus their resources, targeting companies that are financially vulnerable, and around which they can build a good story for maximum public sympathy.
They don’t care if the business goes bankrupt in the process.
Won’t somebody think of the poor, exploited bosses?
Victoria’s Agriculture Minister, Peter Walsh, condemned the strike, saying the picketers were “putting animal welfare at risk” and “causing hip pocket pain for growers”.
But what happens when one of these exploitative bosses goes broke? Don’t worry, they’ve thought of that.
Staff at a labour hire company that short-changed chicken processing workers and forced them to live in overcrowded share accommodation are allegedly operating the same business under a different name after going into liquidation and escaping claims for more than $434,000 … in back payments for work at the Baiada chicken processing plant near Newcastle.
Mr Courtney [of the AMIEU] said Pham Poultry had escaped paying its debts by going into liquidation. He said staff associated with the company had registered another business called NTD Poultry which is providing a similar labour hire service to the Baiada plant in Beresfield. …
Mr Courtney said he was chasing $1.26 million in underpayments, owed to 150 overseas workers, from four labour hire companies.
He said companies including Baiada, one of the largest chicken producers in Australia, were using labour-hire companies to keep costs competitive.
Well, you can’t blame them for competing. After all, as Phillips explained, they are “financially vulnerable”. On the brink of bankruptcy. Aren’t they?
BRW Rich Families List 2014
24. Baiada family
$523 MILLION, LAST YEAR $490 MILLION, (23), RURAL (POULTRY). SYDNEY
The Baiada family have made their fortune in poultry farming, with Baiada Poultry turning over about $1.3 billion revenue in 2013. The firm employs about 2200 people and is a major supplier to Coles, Woolworths and KFC.
But remember: these millionaires are the real victims, while the workers and their unions are the “evil” ones.